If you can count to 61, and can read the Israeli polls, then the broad outline of the 2019 elections was clear to you even as they were declared. 61 is the magic number: a majority out of 120. Whoever manages to get the support of 61 and more Members of Knesset, will be Prime Minister. The rest is noise.
Not a single poll put Netanyahu’s coalition under 61 seats. Generally, the polls gave him 64 to 67 seats. The results as they are now (with full counting of all polls, but not including the soldiers’ vote, and historically they lean right) give Netanuahu a steady coalition of 65 seats. This may not the coalition he wishes he had, but he’ll use. The rest, again, is noise.
As the result was pretty much preordained, the interesting story coming out of this election is the wiping out of the democratic bloc. Labor has six seats, Hadash-Taal have six, Meretz has four, and Balad also four. Total: 20. One-sixth of the Knesset.
One should not consider Gantz’s party a part of the democratic bloc, since it is technically a soft-right party (with some hardline rightwingers included, such as Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon). Blue and White is not a party, technically: it is a bloc of three parties (Gantz’s section, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, and Yaalon’s Telem). Of the three factions, only Yesh Atid has any experience as a bona fide party.
Blue and White, and to a certain extent Labor as well, showed their true colors by bending over backwards to the right-wingers: They repeatedly said they will not accept the Israeli Palestinian parties as partners. Avi Gabbay, leader of Labor, tried to tone it down in the last few weeks, but few paid attention – as everyone remembered how he hounded Zouheir Bahloul, a moderate Israeli Palestinian MK, out of the party. Labor and Blue and White mimicked Netanyahu’s performance in 2015: they didn’t want anything to do with Israeli Palestinians.
And then they panicked, when they realized Israeli Palestinians had little incentive to go to the polls in order to be treated as pariahs. Possibly the most disgusting sight of the last days of the elections was Zionists begging Palestinians to go and vote, and then condemning those benighted savages, half devil and half child, of not knowing what was good for them, as their good masters did.
The result of the Nationality Law, dismay with the endless quarrels within the Joint List of Palestinian parties, and the attitude of the Gantzians and Labor convinced most of the Palestinian voters to stay home. Only 43% voted – and most of the votes came in the late hours, after a massive get out the vote effort following the news that by 16:00 only 15% voted.
So much for the good news. The bad news is that the soldiers’ vote may yet sink the Palestinian bloc, Raam Balad, and bring in Naftali Bennett’s party, the New Right. This will bring the democratic bloc down to 16 votes.
There are a few conclusions following the vote:
1. Israel’s democracy is deeply flawed. This is Netanyahu’s best result ever, and he received it even when going to the polls under the shade of three indictments. A third of the public simply doesn’t care, at best, or lost all belief in Israel’s justice institutes, at worst. Any would-be tinpot dictator could use these people.
2. Liberal Zionism is dead. At best it has 10 seats in the Knesset (Labor and Meretz). Anyone who still thinks Israel “shares values” with the West ought to wake up and smell the coffee.
3. We are all Jewish Supremacists now, but you knew that already.
While the results were a forgone conclusion, and while we had some pleasant surprises (foot and Temple fetishist Moshe Feiglin is out, and in all likelihood so is Naftali Bennett), it still feels like a kick in the stomach. Waking up, you realize the coming years are going to be even harder for the remnants of the liberal camp in Israel. You realize that another round of violence with the occupied Palestinians is almost a certainty, and that rivers of blood are going to flow. You realize you represent, at best, some 8% of Israelis. You realize you’re now in the illegitimate, borderline-dissident side of politics.
You look for the silver lining: The understanding among liberal activists that they won’t be able to ever win elections, or at least lose them with a respectful margin, without working with Israeli Palestinians. The next few years will show whether this understanding can be translated into political action.
I won’t lie and say I’m optimistic. We are moving through a strong illiberal period, and a black International is on the rise, from Russia through the US and here. The wheel will turn, at one point – history loves cycles – but there is no telling who might be squashed under it as it turns.
Then again, we don’t have the luxury of giving up, or the privilege of despairing. Stiff upper lip, then. It will be a long slog.